Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Value – Quarterly Update 3

2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Harold Landry (EDGE, Boston College)
December 6, 2017
The Update: Week 14
December 11, 2017

Contextualizing the Run: Offensive Run-Game Win Value – Quarterly Update 3

OrW tracks both teams and players and evaluates one thing—the frequency with which the subject can win the play by running the ball. How do we define this? An offensive run-game win is any run play (excluding kneel-downs) that keeps an offense on track to pick up a first down, or a touchdown if it’s a goal to go situation. For example, on a standard 1st down, the offense has 3 plays (assuming a punt on 4th) to gain 10 yards. To “win” first down, a run would need to pick up 4 yards. If the offense starts from 1st and 10 and picks up 4 yards every play, the series will result in a touchdown every time. This logic extends to any down and distance needed. On 2nd down the team has 2 plays to gain the necessary yardage, so they need to pick up half of it to “win” the down, while on third and fourth down they need to gain the yardage necessary for the first to be labeled a win.

This stat, on a team level, will show who has the most efficient and reliable running games. On a player level, while it shouldn’t be viewed as a be-all end-all stat to evaluate running backs, combining it with a stat like Justis’ that tracks what RB’s do past the line of scrimmage, or Ryan Jackson’s ANRY/A that adjusts running backs yardage for efficiency, it can paint a pretty good picture.

Over the season, I will be posting the weekly results here on settingedge.com, and every four weeks I will be giving a big-picture, season long look at how teams and players are faring. With all the introductory stuff out of the way, let’s take a look at the season to date.

Folks,,, the season is almost over and that stinks out loud. While the playoffs are obviously the most exciting time of the year, it also means we’re almost to the point of no more football games played for 6 months and that’s a depressing thought. OrW has really taken hold at this point, as it’s clear which teams can lean on their run game to keep the offense on schedule and which can’t. Let’s get into the teams.

To recap what has happened in Dallas, the Cowboys lost Ezekiel Elliot, lost Tyron Smith for a bit, lost their offensive identity and…maintained their running efficiency? Dallas had averaged ~10 OrW points per quarter of the season this year, a pace that was improved in the third quarter of the year behind Alfred Morris and Rod Smith. This isn’t to suggest that Zeke is overrated or anything, simply that the Cowboys line is a force and that running game, in terms of an efficiency standpoint, is borderline foolproof. They overtook the Patriots for the league’s top spot, who flipped with them down to #2. Behind the entrenched top 2, the Saints made a leap into the top 3 behind the emergence of Alvin Kamara and the continued dominance that Mark Ingram has shown during his career season. The Packers moved up a spot to #4 as their ground attack has continued to flourish the less Ty Montgomery plays, while the Broncos, somehow, have maintained their place as a top 5 valued running game.

Outside the top 5, the Steelers have continued to get back on track, slightly “limiting” Le’Veon Bell’s attempts (he’s “down” to a 325 carry pace where he was at nearly 400 5 weeks ago) and finding increased success in doing so. The Redskins make 0 sense and are one of the least consistent teams on the ground this year, while the Titans have gotten things back on track a bit after a rough middle of the year on the ground. The Rams efficiency has declined a bit as the season has worn on, while the Panthers and Browns have made significant leaps to more or less keep the Falcons where they were at the last update.

On the other end, the Seahawks continue to be an absolute mess, and keep in mind this includes Russell Wilson scrambling so this number isn’t even close to as bad as it should be. The Jets have maintained their spot as the second worst ground game in the sport, while the Chargers have actually been about league average over the past 5 weeks to “jump” out of the bottom 3 and barely land in the bottom 5 (as we’ll see when we get to the players’ section, this isn’t because of Melvin Gordon). After a couple big weeks early, Adrian Peterson hasn’t done anything for that Cardinals offense, and the Lions continue to have no clue what running a football is.

To finish off this section, I wanna look at 3 teams who started the year on top of the world running the ball, and have all fallen off significantly as the season has worn on. First, the Chiefs. Kareem Hunt’s ridiculous start to the year was always going to be unsustainable, but that whole team has fallen apart as the season has progressed. While OrW doesn’t differentiate where the success/blame should be credited, watching the Chief’s it is clear Kareem Hunt is not the issue. The line can’t create holes anymore and no one is afraid of Alex Smith because he’s Alex Smith again. This year might not find a fix, but going forward Kareem Hunt is still a premier running back.

The Texans for most of the year had maintained their status as a high volume/moderately high efficiency rushing attack, and while the volume part remains true, with Tom Savage back under center the efficiency aspect has drastically fallen off. At the midseason update the Texans had an OrWV of 7.16, good for 9th in the league. Through 12 games, their OrWV is 0.03, 19th in the league. With Deshaun Watson out and Tom Savage in the Texans offense has fallen off a cliff, as has their record. Deshaun Watson should still place second behind Alvin Kamara in OROY if you ask me.

Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars have seen the biggest negative change of any team in the league over the last 5 weeks. Sporting a 7.64 OrWV through 8 weeks of the season, the Jaguars offense has nearly entirely fallen apart since, and now sports a below league average running game on the year, at -4.25, 22nd in the NFL, one spot behind the Giants who spent most of the year as a bottom 5 rushing team in the league. If the Jaguars were a team predicated on passing the ball and didn’t lean on their rush, this wouldn’t be a huge deal. But….

When sorted by total rushes, we see the Jaguars run the ball more than any other team in the NFL this year. The Vikings are in a similar ratio of rushing volume vs rushing efficiency, but Case Keenum (???) and their receiving weapons has done enough through the air to maintain a successful offense that has beaten many top teams in the league this year. Looking at the values sorted by total attempts, we can see there really isn’t a correlation between volume and efficiency, it’s really a team-by-team basis (although it is hilarious that the Dolphins are so bad on so few attempts). If anything, any correlation found (most of the teams that run less are below league average) is more a result of knowing a weakness and staying away from it. Let’s move on to the players.

(Note: I understand that it’s a little hard to see the names, the number of players with 75+ rushes made it hard to enlarge the text too much. To counter this, whenever I bring up a player, I’ll list his value and rank on the list in parentheses.)

So, remember when I said the Cowboys continued success shouldn’t lead you to suggest that Zeke is overrated? Yeah, this is why. Despite missing the past 4 weeks to suspension Ezekiel Elliot (24.14, 1st) still has a commanding lead over everyone else in the league in OrWV. Remember, Zeke started the season slow and had multiple weeks where he couldn’t practice and didn’t know if he was going to be able to play until late in the week, and he is still by far the most successful back in the league. He’s very good and although the Cowboys likely don’t have a chance at the playoffs this year, they could definitely play spoiler/mess up some playoff seeding when he returns to face the Seahawks and Eagles in weeks 16 and 17.

Similar to the Steelers in the first section, Le’Veon Bell (17.54, 2nd) has gotten back on track. For all the fuss that was made early in the year about his struggles, he has passed Todd Gurley (15.54, 3rd) as the most successful back in the league who isn’t currently suspended. Dion Lewis (13.54, 4th) continues to be absurd since the Patriots let him take over as the lead back, although Mike Gillislee (8.97, 11th) still deserves some recognition for being a near-top 10 valuable back despite being a healthy scratch for a month now. Behind Lewis, the Saints dynamic duo (whose nickname should be Rhythm and Bruise) make up the last of the top 5 and first out of it, with Mark Ingram (12.30, 5th) still edging out Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara (10.49, 6th), who edges out fellow rookie Jamaal Williams (10.19, 7th). Williams has been slightly more successful than fellow rookie Packer Aaron Jones, who fell 5 carries shy of qualifying, but both should form a solid pairing in Green Bay for the next 3+ years. Alex Collins (9.84, 9th) was a huge crush of mine coming out of Arkansas, and the least successful rushing attack in football decided they didn’t need him in Seattle after only a year. He’s thriving in Baltimore as clearly the best back on his team.

Looking at the other end, this is why I said Melvin Gordon (-21.10, last) doesn’t deserve praise for the Chargers being an approximately league average running game over the last 5 weeks. That credit goes to his non-qualifying, more talented backup Austin Ekeler, who would be 14th if he were added to this chart. Free the Ek-man.

Most of the rest of the players approximately line up with their teams success and this has already run long, so I’ll just point out that Orleans Darkwa (5.11, 15th) has been impressive as the Giants lead back.

Lastly, a quick look at OrW through volume for players (I forgot to adjust the title of the chart, sue me). There are actual people on this Earth who think Leonard Fournette should be OROY over Alvin Kamara. There are people on this Earth who think Melvin Gordon is a good running back. There are people on this Earth who think Ezekiel Elliot is not. Don’t be those people.

That will do it for the last quarterly update of the year. At the next update, we’ll be recapping the entire regular season (*insert crying emojis*). Until then, check back in next week for the week 14 numbers, only on settingedge.com.